Bamileke Hats are now designer décor items. However, they stem from traditional African handicraft with a very different function. Bamileke hats and masks were usually worn during ceremonies and rituals such as funerals and annual festivals.
The Bamileke tribe was originally from an area to the north known as Mbam. In the 17th century traders moved southward and are currently in the grasslands of western Cameroon. Today their population consists of about eight million people.
In the image below you see the Kuosi masqueraders with their beaded elephant masks and feathered headressses. These feathered headresses were also worn by themselves with a cloth costume. In the Bamileke, the Kuosi society, who reports directly to the king, is responsible for dramatic masquerading displays. This was formerly a warrior society, whose members today are made up of powerful, wealthy men. Even the king may don a mask for an appearance at a Kuosi celebration which is a public dance held every other year as a display of the kingdom's wealth.
Many of the artworks produced by the Bamileke tribe are associated with royal ceremonies. Most Bamileke statues represent the chief. Art objects showed the position of a person it the hierarchy. As a person descended or ascended the social ladder the materials used and the number of pieces changed. In a chief’s residence one would find ancestral figures and masks, as well as headdresses, bracelets, beaded thrones, pipes, necklaces, swords, horns, fans, elephant tusks, leopard skins, terracotta pots, and dishware. All of this was used to assert the chief’s power. Beadwork and masks are common in this tribe. Masks were decorated with copper, cowrie shells, and beads. They were carved to represent male and female heads, stag, buffalo, birds, and elephant. The elephant masks and the buffalo masks represented power and strength.
With thanks to extracts from www.forafricanart.com